Guerilla Union kicked off their 9th Annual ‘Rock The Bells’ Festival in San Bernardino, Calif. The two-day event attracted thousands of hip-hop fans to three stages featuring an eclectic mix of headliners, up-and-comers, and old-school favorites. The blistering heat was no match for the scorching set-list that included Kendrick Lamar, Tyga, Nas, Ice Cube, and Common among others.
The first day of the festival was a real scorcher, with temperatures reaching 101 degrees, leaving fans clamoring for shade between sets. Still, 2Chainz’ mid-day performance on the 36 Chambers stage was packed. Fresh off his No. 1 album debut last week, he treated the crowd to dance lessons during his high-energy set; where he performed hits like “Mercy, “Beez In The Trap”, and “No Lie”.
Yelawolf was the next emcee to grace the stage and was backed up by Psycho White collaborator, Travis Barker on the drums. The Detroit-based rapper rocked an American flag under his hat and waved middle fingers to the crowd throughout his 30-minute set.
Tyga rocked his noticeably young crowd with a medley of radio hits; showing off his tattoo collection to throngs of screaming girls. Across the lot, Common delivered a power-packed performance of classic hits including, “I Used To Love Her,” “Testify,” and “Be”. Dressed casually in shorts and a T-shirt, his subdued set was a welcomed relief from the more eccentric offerings of the day.
As the evening approached and temperatures cooled off, fans could enjoy the night’s line-up more comfortably. DMX and Eve reunited onstage for the first time in ten years, treating fans to a double dose of nostalgia. DMX was in rare form, starting his show with a growl and a prayer. He showcased energy of a rapper half his age as he barked out classics like “Ruff Ryders Anthem” and “Up In Here” to a turned up crowd. He showed no signs of stumbling, fueling rumors that this time, his comeback could stick. With his upcoming album, Undisputed slated for a September release, it was weird he didn’t debut new material. Eve, on the other hand, used the opportunity to debut new music from her upcoming EP, LipLock. Dressed in tight, red-leopard pants and flaunting flowing locks; she looked the part as she attempted to resurrect her rap career through hits like “Blow Your Mind” and a freestyle to “Niggas In Paris” where she warned female emcees she was back, “You bitches in debt better pay your taxes…”
The standout performance of the night goes to J. Cole who proved what all the hype is about during his hour-long set. He included hits like “Workout,” “Lights Out,” and “Nobody’s Perfect.” His delivery was flawless, and his ability to connect with fans from the stage is uncanny.
Kid Cudi closed out the first night with an almost 90-minute set. He started off with his radio hits, but transitioned mid-performance to some more abstract material that featured him singing more than rapping. At some points, he seemed to forget the words to better known tunes like “Soundtrack To My Life” leaving the crowd to finish the majority of his verses.
Day two of the festival brought more heat and more hits from the likes of Ice Cube, Machine Gun Kelly, and Pusha T.
Wiz Khalifa dedicated a solid hour Sunday night to a smoke-filled crowd who couldn’t get enough of the stoner hero. Rocking a scarf and fedora, Wiz was the epitome of cool, and proved why he’s his own brand of rockstar. He didn’t rely on his radio hits, but treated core fans to a collection of songs, mostly off his mix tape, Kush & Orange Juice. Of course, he closed his set with current smash single, “ Young, Wild, and Free”.
Ice Cube did the west coast proud during his Sunday-night set that included a shout-out to the late Nate Dogg. The veteran rapper told the crowd he wouldn’t go past ’95, promising he’d deliver the old-school hits they came to hear.
Nas closed the festival with a 90–minute set, telling the crowd, “I been changing. I’ve been going crazy, like everybody else. Walk with me.”
He promoted his new album, Life Is Good and told fans that for him, the title finally rings true. He performed new music including “Daughters” and “Bye Baby” and threw in some classics like “Hate Me Now” and “Ether” for good measure. To see a veteran rapper attack a performance with the same intensity as he did 15 years ago was mind-blowing, and a testament to his talent.
While the heat was a bummer, the festival was a perfect depiction of the diversity within hip-hop. With only a few disappointments, (Chief Keef was a no-show, where was Missy Elliott?) it was an overall success and an opportunity for fans to see their favorite artists up close and personal. With two more stops on the tour, Rock The Bells 2012 is off to a stellar start.